Attributes of God - Omnipotence and Omniscience

Marvel’s movie The Avengers: Infinity War introduced audiences to the comic book character Thanos. Thanos is the fictional supervillain from the planet Titan. Thanos attempts to collect six infinity stones which, when combined in a special gauntlet, will give him infinite powers. No spoilers here, but the fact that there is a movie reveals that Thanos’ power is not quite infinite. His power is of a different magnitude than all the Avengers, but combined they will be able to battle him. True omnipotence in your supervillains would make for a very short movie and not very compelling drama.

What is omnipotence? What does it mean that God is omnipotent? And while we’re at it, what about omniscience? These are important attributes of God that help us understand who He is and what He does.

Omnipotence comes from Latin terms “omni” meaning all and “potens” meaning power. The term omnipotence is used to denote the attribute of being all-powerful. God identifies himself when he addresses Abraham, “I am God Almighty” (Gen 17:1). God is all-might. God is absolutely sovereign. “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust” (Isa. 40:15). “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isa. 40:17). King Nebuchadnezzar confessed this about God after having been humbled by God, “for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan 4:34-35). God’s power is so absolute and thorough that not even all the greatest kings and emperors of history could combine to thwart God’s power. Not even the Hulk could smash God’s plan.

We can often conceive of God’s power because we reflect in some fractional manner the attribute of power. We have power. We have it to varying degrees, but we truly possess power of some sort. We begin to misunderstand God’s omnipotence, however, when we conflate our power with God’s power. God’s power is simple and independent. We have looked at the attributes of God’s simplicity and his aseity. We have also seen that God is one. So, God’s simplicity and independence are seen in his power. God does not have power. He is all-powerful.

Have you ever watched one of those “Strongest Man” competitions? These mountains of humanity go through a contest in which they perform superhuman feats like juggling refrigerators, pulling tractors with their teeth, or deadlifting a Volkswagen. It is unbelievable how strong and powerful some of these men are. But their power comes from somewhere. Their bodies are fueled by food. They have developed and trained their muscles. Deprive them of the necessities of life, and their power would radically diminish. Deprive them of exercise and their strength would waste away. Even the strongest man in the world only has derivative power. But not so with God. God’s power is independent. God requires nothing. He is dependent upon nothing. It is inherent to who he is. God’s power is not simply a part of who he is. God is all-powerful. This is why God can create ex nihilo (out of nothing). No one else has the power to create from nothing.

Just as we say that God is omni-potent, we also affirm that he is omni-scient. We’ve already seen the term “omni.” The Latin term for knowledge is “scientia.” Thus, omniscient means all-knowing. There is nothing that God does not know.

All of God’s knowledge is complete and immediate. God does not learn anything. His knowledge is not the result of contemplation or investigation. If we want to know something, we must observe, investigate, study, or learn it. Not so with God. God’s knowledge is a priori (from before). What God observes, he knows and had decreed eternally.[1]

Another aspect of the simplicity of God is that his power is directly related to his knowledge. God creates (power) by his word (knowledge). God speaks and that thing is. And by God’s omnipotent knowledge he sustains all creation. When God “thinks,” things happen. The early church pastor John of Damascus wrote, “By thinking He creates and, with the Word fulfilling and the Spirit perfecting, the object of His thought subsists.”[2] Katherine Rogers adds, “God’s omnipotence entails that everything that has any sort of being at all, besides God, is kept in existence from moment to moment by God’s causal power. Since God’s power is His knowledge, whatever is is because it is being thought right now by God.”[3]

As Anselm had argued, “God is someone than whom none greater can be conceived.” God is not just the most powerful or most knowing, he is all-powerful and all-knowing. God is the perfect being. As such, he is imminently worthy of our praise and worship. “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isa. 40:28).

[1] Barrett, None Greater, 192.


[2] John of Damascus, Orthodox Faith 2.2. quoted in Barrett, Matthew, None Greater, 193.


[3] Rogers, Perfect Being Theology, p. 31, quoted in Barrett, Matthew, None Greater, 193.

Covenant Presbyterian Church

291 Parsonage Hill Road

Short Hills, New Jersey 07078

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